Written By Griffin Dowd (@griffindowd98)
The Eastern Conference final is set to kickoff tonight in Tampa, with a trip to the Stanley Cup on the line. Caps fans are still riding the high from beating Sid and the Pens. Meanwhile the Bolts are looking to book their ticket in Lord Stanley’s finale for the third time in franchise history. Before the puck drops, we brought in Griffin Dowd to break down this exciting matchup.
Washington Capitals (49-26-7,105pts) VS. Tampa Bay Lightning (54-23-5,113pts)
Ovie has done it, Caps fans can breathe, the Washington Capitals have advanced to the Conference Finals for the first time in 19 years. A team that has been stuck in the spotlight of playoff failures, has continued to prove they are a team driven to win the Stanley Cup. While much of the spotlight has drifted to the successful Vegas Golden Knights, the success of the Winnipeg Jets, and the electric hockey market of Nashville. Ovechkin, Kuznetsov and the boys are rolling into the third round after knocking off the best team the NHL has seen in the past 4 years. Sidney Crosby and the back-to-back cup champions are going home early this year, failing to get Phil Kessel his third Stanley Cup.
The Caps will matchup with the best team in the Eastern Conference, the fast, puck moving, goal scoring Tampa Bay Lightning. Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov combined for 186 points throughout the regular season, and have seen emerging talent in Brayden Point and Yanni Gourde providing depth scoring. Tampa had their hands full with the hottest line in hockey: Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak, and the man with the most popular tongue in hockey, Brad Marchand. The Lightning dominated the Bruins five-on-five and limited them to just 5 goals in the final 3 games of the series, big thanks to Vezina candidate Andrei Vasilevskiy. The Lightning will look to continue their dominance against Braden Holtby.
Let’s look at the numbers:
- The Lightning took two out of three from the Capitals during the regular season, beating them once on home-ice and once on the road. Both of these teams have passionate fan bases, and play in loud buildings, home-ice is crucial this late in the playoffs.
- Alex Ovechkin has been very successful against Tampa Bay in his career, as he and Nick Backstrom average more than a point per game against the club.
- Ovechkin has 41 goals, 83 points in 63 GP, Backstrom 42 assists, 52 points in 44 GP
- Washington has a slight advantage in playoff special teams, both teams have excellent power plays, I see special teams being a big factor in this series.
- Washington PP: 30.9% PK: 79.1%
- Tampa Bay PP: 26.3% PK: 74.2%
- Playoff Leading Scorers: Nikita Kucherov for Tampa Bay (6G, 6A, 12pts) and Alex Ovechkin for Washington (8G 7A)
- Both teams have top caliber goaltenders. Washington’s Braden Holtby enters the series with a playoff record of 8-3 and a stellar 2.04 Goals Against Average, on the other side the projected Vezina candidate winner Andrei Vaselevskiy has a 8-2 record and an 2.20 GAA. These guys are good, every goal in this series will be crucial.
Griffin’s Takes: I’m taking the Lightning in this series, with the additions of Ryan McDonaugh and J.T. Miller, the Bolts have been able to become a shut-down defensive team with a deep four lines that can put the puck in the net. The Capitals found success beating a struggling, and what seemed like a tired Pittsburgh team. I think if Washington wants to beat Tampa Bay, they need to find more goal scoring, you can’t rely on your top line scorers to guide you to a cup, it takes a full roster, and it won’t be easy to beat the NHL’s top goalie. Tom Wilson will return after game one after serving a three-game suspension, a crucial player for their lineup providing a physical and hopefully a depth scoring presence.
I wouldn’t count this Capitals team out though, with all things clicking this team is scary good and can beat anyone in this league, the Russian horse isn’t slowing down and is hungry for a Stanley Cup, #CAPSYEAR
Final Prediction: 4-2 Lightning, I expect a lot of one goal games here and some depth scorers stepping up in this series and hopefully a lot of overtime hockey.
We’re halfway through the NHL playoffs, enjoy it while we can folks, the best time of the year is coming to a close… and a summer ripe with hockey withdrawal is coming.
Griffin Dowd is currently a Sport Management student at Brock University. He spends his evenings yelling at the Boston Red Sox and soaking in NHL hockey with an ice cold PBR in his hand. He’s known for crying like a baby (in a good way) when the Eagles won the Super Bowl, formerly having a mullet, being a college hockey advocate (Go Sioux) and only having one solo Fortnite win. Hailing from the Hammer, his favourite phrase is “Oskee Wee Wee” and won’t talk to you if you like the Argos…or the Yankees.